To My 12th Grade High School Teacher,
At the start of college application season during senior year, I told you that I needed extra time to work on my college applications. I was worried because I was applying to top tier institutions and didn’t think I was good enough to get in. I remember gathering every ounce of courage to say these words out loud, “UCLA is my dream school, so I’m doing everything I can to make myself as competitive as possible.” I knew it was an incredibly difficult school to get into; I was terrified. You let out a sigh; I watched as a frown and puzzled look quickly grew on your face. You commented, “I don’t know why counselors push students into these schools they’re not ready for.” My heart fell as you continued, “Students only get their hearts broken when they don’t get into those schools and the students that do get in come back as dropouts.”
As one of the few in my family to make it to my senior year of high school and the first in my family to apply to college, I was devastated. I thought, maybe college isn’t for me. But I worked so hard. You let out a final sigh, “Start at a community college, kids from this community just aren’t ready for that, the counselors are just setting you up for disappointment.”
I left the room after that. I walked away with no particular place in mind, but I knew that I needed to leave. I subconsciously landed into Mr. Palomo’s classroom, my old AP U.S. history teacher. With tears running down my face and an incredibly bruised ego, I told him what happened. I watched as his face grew red, “Mija, don’t let her be the reason to hold you back. Yes, UCLA is immensely difficult to get into, but you are an amazing student who has done so much already. I’m sorry to say this won’t be that last time you will face something like this, but don’t let people like that be the reason to hold you back.”
Ms. High School Teacher, as a white teacher who was employed in a low-income and predominantly Latino community, you should be the last person advising students to discourage us. Yes, we lived in a low-income community with a school that didn’t always have the resources we needed, but that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve the same level of support students in Beverly Hills receive. We needed you to support us, I needed you to encourage me to apply to an institution that I honestly didn’t believe I had a chance at getting into. I was lucky enough to find another teacher to provide me with that support, but what about those students who didn’t? I remember hearing you advise my peers against taking AP classes, you said it was a waste of their time, but it wasn’t. I didn’t have the courage to stand up to you back then, but I do now.
I want to thank you for believing in me, Ms. High School Teacher. Without your lack of encouragement, I would have never discovered the tenacity I need to survive higher education. I want you to know that I was accepted to UCLA during my senior year of high school. In fact, I just became the first in my extended family to graduate from college. !Primera pero no la última!
You encouraged me to fight inequalities in education. You inspired me come back to LAUSD where I worked with students of my own. Low-income students don’t need educators who discourage them from pursuing their dreams, the media already does a tremendous job of doing that. We need people who are willing to believe in us and realize that we’re not broken. As students from low-income communities, we are powerful, intelligent, and worthy of educators who support our wildest endeavors.
Lastly, Mr. Palomo I can never thank you enough for pushing me when I needed it the most. As a first generation student, I contemplated dropping out of UCLA countless of times, but your words of wisdom continued to push me even after I graduated high school. You are the example of the kind of educator I strive to be.
A First Generation UCLA Alumna,